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Prelude to War

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This story is No. 3 in the series "Violence and Variations". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Riverworld is full of mysteries that can't be fully explained. After her conversation with Burton, Buffy wonders if she might be one of them.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > RiverworldkerrykhatFR1312,0410362616 Feb 1216 Feb 12Yes
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and related characters; SyFy owns "Riverworld" and all related characters; I own nothing.

~*~*~

Buffy sat on a fallen tree, trying not to show any discomfort to the man currently pointing a gun at her. She desperately hoped that she had developed a better poker face here than while she had been alive, because inside she was seething. She had been stupid, careless, and a whole other load of adjectives that weren't coming to mind right now, letting Burton sneak up on her like that. She just hoped that she wouldn't end up with a bullet in her and being forced to climb out of the river again to remind her of that fact.

“So. You have me. What’s next? You give a clever villainous speech, I laugh, we fight, what?” she asked, finally fed up with the silence. She may have learned patience here the hard way, but after sitting staring at each other for what felt like hours, she needed to get the ball rolling. She needed to see if there was a way to turn the tables on him and get out of here. She had heard rumors about Burton around the odd grail stone, and nothing that she’d picked up made her want to spend a significant amount of time with him. They said that he had a few screws loose in his head, although now that she thought about it, she was sure they said the same thing about her as well.

“That’s a little presumptuous, casting me as the villain in this piece,” Burton commented, sitting on a rock opposite her. “You haven’t even heard my side of the story yet.”

“Well, if you were going to do anything other than point a gun at me, now would definitely be the time to do that,” Buffy replied, doing her best to sound like this whole thing was no big. “I don’t know if we get grey hairs here or anything, but somehow I’m thinking the whole ‘no time like the present’ to find out if we do is really overrated.”

“If you think that throwing me off by sounding less intelligent than you assuredly are will work, you’re mistaken, my dear,” Burton answered. “I’ve heard the stories, Anne, of the woman that the grail-slavers fear. Who they go out of their way to avoid drawing her attention.”

“And you think it’s me because...” Buffy prompted, gesturing with her hand for him to hurry up.

“They all said that the woman in question lacks a grail band. Just like you, if I remember correctly.”

Buffy resisted the urge to look down at her empty wrists, keeping her gaze on Burton’s face. “So what’s the big about that?” she asked. “Other than it being a pain in the ass to get food.”

“I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t know what not having a grail band means,” Burton answered coolly. “But I also find it hard to believe you’re a better liar than I initially gave you credit for.”

“I don’t know if I should be offended or not.”

“Did your caretaker not explain what the grail band means when they resurrected you?” he demanded, getting to his feet and walking closer to her. Buffy looked up at him, but stayed where she was.

“And again, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” she repeated with exaggerated slowness. “You’re doing this assuming thing, and I don’t know if they had this when you were alive, but you know what they say about assuming things, right? It makes an ass out of...”

“Enough!” Burton ordered, grabbing Buffy’s wrist and pulling her roughly to her feet. “I’m getting tired of your games, Anne.”

“Well, I’m getting tired of being all demand-y about answers I don’t have, but we can’t get what we want, now can we?” Jerking her arm out of his grip, she rubbed the spot where he had grabbed her. “Do that to me again, and I swear on all that is holy, I will kick your ass so hard, you won’t be able to sit down for a week.”

“You forget I have the gun.”

“And I find myself starting to care less and less about it,” Buffy shot back, sitting back down on her tree and crossing her arms. “Now. Humor me. Who are the Caretakers?”

“The Caretakers are our lords and masters on this miserable world,” Burton finally answered with a harsh laugh. “They’re the ones we have to thank for our existence on Riverworld. They decided that we humans deserved a second chance, so they created this place to do just that, cursing us to life after meaningless life here.”

“I’m starting to get the distinct impression that you’re not a fan.” Cracking her neck, Buffy scanned the area around them, noting possible weapons she could use, since her own where currently unavailable. There were a few sticks and a rock that looked like it could do some damage within easy reach. She’d just have to find a way to get to them without calling too much attention to herself.

“We’re like rats in a game of rat-baiting to them, here only for their amusement,” Burton replied, his voice getting heated. “We live and we die in this farce of an existence, and for what? For their amusement, nothing more.”

Well, that explains a few things, Buffy thought silently, a dull anger filling her. She had wondered why she had woken up in a river after she died that last time, but had never gotten an answer until now. It was probably a good thing, now that she thought about it. The temptation to open a can of whoopass on yet another group of Powers that Suck would have been too strong.

“You mentioned something about sides,” she prompted, getting back to her feet and moving closer to the rock she had noted earlier. “And how does my lack of grail band-age fit into this?”

“Not all the Caretakers take the same view on this little project of theirs,” Burton answered, the gun still trained on her. “Removing the grail band is a way that they mark their champions, so that the other side can’t locate them easily.”

“You’re trying to bring this place down, aren’t you?” Buffy asked, realization dawning on her. “That’s why you want to know which side I’m on, to make sure I’m not in your way.”

“That had crossed my mind, yes.”

“You’re trying to end the world,” Buffy repeated, ignoring Burton’s slightly sarcastic response to her previous statement. “You’re working with the same guys who you say treat us like rats to destroy Riverworld.”

“It’s really not that hard of a concept to understand, Anne,” Burton said, his voice condescending. Buffy ignored him and looked out at the river instead. “Which brings me to my original question. Which side are you on? Do you want to live the same futile existence again and again, or do you want to help me end this curse?”

“Neither.”

“Pardon?”

“I’m not on either side. I’m not being a champion, a-a puppet for anyone,” Buffy explained, turning around to face Burton. “Not any more.”

“Then help me end this! That’s the only way to keep them from using us as toys to liven their existence,” Burton urged her. “We can finish this once and for all, Anne.”

“I’m not doing that. I didn’t spend my life trying to protect people just to condemn them all to death because I’m pissed off at the system!” Buffy found herself trying to reign in her temper, to keep herself in control. Yelling at Burton, while satisfying, wouldn’t get her anywhere. This man was a fanatic. There would be no changing his mind about trying to destroy Riverworld. “If what you’re saying about there being different sides is true, than you’re just the same pawn that you’re accusing everybody else of being!”

“Has anybody told you that you are a stubborn, illogical child?” Burton asked quietly, his eyes boring into hers.

“Quite a few, yeah,” Buffy answered, trying to keep her voice light. “But I’m pretty sure it’s one of my better qualities.”

“You really would stand in my way, Anne?” Burton demanded, adjusting the gun slightly in his hand. “You would allow them to play petty gods with us as their playthings?”

“I’m Team Free Will all the way, Burton,” Buffy replied, thinking of that show that she got sucked into by the mini-Slayers about those two brothers, whose name she couldn’t quite remember. “I’m not playing by their rules, and I’m not playing by yours. My answer is no.”

The crack of the gunshot rang out in the otherwise silent riverbank. Buffy felt a burning pain in her stomach then numbness started to spread and she fell to her knees before falling to the ground. She didn’t need to touch the wound to know that she was bleeding heavily, and that the wound was most likely fatal.

“It’s a shame it had to be this way, Anne,” Burton apologized, crouching down next to her. Buffy, ignoring the feeling of strength leaving her body, grabbed his arm.

“The next time I see you, Burton, expect me to return the favor,” she ground out, tightening her grip as much as she could. The edges of her vision were starting to darken, and it was becoming harder to focus.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep, my dear,” Burton whispered, trying to pull his wrist from her hand only to fail. She may be dying, but she was still stronger than him.

“Just. Watch. Me.”

~*~*~
The next thing Buffy remembered, she was surrounded by water. Ignoring her instinctual urge to panic at the press of its weight against her, she struggled to the surface, taking a deep breath of air as soon as she could. Treading water, she scanned her surroundings, finally spying the nearest shore and began swimming towards it.

As soon as she reached dry land, she looked around, trying to see if she could place where she was. Surprisingly, she recognized the area. She was more than certain she had a cache of weapons around here too, so she wouldn’t be starting from scratch when she inevitably ran into a band of grail slavers. Not waiting for her clothes to dry, she took off into the woods. As soon as she was armed and ready for business, she’d sort out what had just happened, what Burton had told her about Riverworld.

She didn’t know what kind of game these Caretakers were playing, but she knew that she wasn’t about to be drawn into another game of good versus evil, of being a chess piece for the Powers that Be. She had already been there, done that, and she wasn’t going to let anybody else dictate what she was going to do with her life. There had to be a reason she didn’t have a grail band, but since those nice Caretakers hadn’t shown up yet telling her which side she should be fighting on, there had to be another reason. This couldn’t just be one of those coincidences people kept telling her about. But, until she found that out, she would just have to be the wrench being thrown in to mess up everybody’s plans.

The next time I see him, I’m so going to find a way to beat answers out of him, Buffy thought to herself, finally finding where she had hid those weapons. Much to her shock, there were right where she had left them, completely undisturbed.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” she muttered, pulling the pack out of the hole and shouldering it. There was something going on here. Something big that she was only starting to catch a glimpse of. Maybe she should hunt herself a Caretaker and get some answers out of it.

“So I guess I’m off to see the wizard.” Talking to herself was a bad habit she had fallen into, but it was one that she probably wasn’t going to kick any time soon. Making sure that she had weapons within easy reach, she started off into the forest, determined to at least get some of the answers she was looking for about Riverworld and what the hell exactly was going on.

The End

You have reached the end of "Prelude to War". This story is complete.

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